by Douglas Pugh
The RightEyedDeer Press
Grahame Wales, Canadian Potter, working on a new "pot"
Following the route of Highway 35 through the Haliburton Highlands, a road often described as one of the most panoramic in the whole of Ontario, heading north of Minden, you’ll come across a small village called Carnarvon. Taking Highway 118 at the intersection, heading westwards towards the swish Muskoka Lakes area, you’ll be treated to spectacular cliff faces, rock cuts and hidden forested streams.
Don’t however be distracted by nature’s beauty in this rugged landscape, rather keep your eyes open for a blue sign pointing the way towards Earth and Fire Pottery, for here, tucked away in the midst of sixty acres of rolling forest, lies treasure indeed.
Grahame and Debbie Wales have lived here for well over thirty years. They built the studio itself – though originally it was a home as well as a studio – and later added their beautiful log home too. Debbie was a school principal, while Grahame worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources until it was conducive to have someone home based to help tend to the growing brood of children. Grahame – colloquially known as ‘Hairy Potter’ – took to pottery late on, learning from Debbie originally and then increasing his range of skills and techniques through workshops and good old-fashioned experimentation. The hobby expanded and expanded, going to shows and taking over the old homestead until the studio was born.
As the kids grew and slowly flew from the nest, so too did their shared love of creating ceramic works of beauty and craftsmanship.
“We are quite different, “ says Debbie, “I like to think that I’m the more artistic of the pair of us, while Grahame he can focus himself onto producing consistent batches of products. Grahame can throw a batch of clay on the wheel so expertly, and obviously far larger than anything I could do, while I like to create things from slab.”
They are indeed quite different, and yet you can tell how well their skills and approaches dovetail together. This is a combination, a pairing that is a tour de force together.
“It was when we decided that we desperately wanted a reduction furnace,” explains Grahame, “ a massive investment — that was when we decided that if we were going to ‘go for it’ then we had to make the jump to selling the products professionally too.”
Debbie extols the virtue of the reduction furnace, the variation that it adds to the glaze, rather than the consistent – but flat – colours produced from an electric kiln.
“It adds this iridescence, “ she tilts one of their mugs to the light, “ and see here, where the oxidation from the clay itself comes through, giving this random speckled effect, electric just can’t do anything like that. Nor does it bring the power of such lustre through.”
You know with every word that the products are invested with far much more than money here; this is a firing of ideals and visualisation, all firmly coated with a glaze of love for what they do.
Debbie is not just a creator though, she also brings organisational skills, a critical eye on quality control, and spends quite a few hours every week on her charitable voluntary work. A veritable dynamo.
“Arts, “ says Grahame, “ are such an integral part of the community here, a huge driver for the local economy. The artists spend most of their income locally as well as attracting the thousands of tourists that are drawn by the studio tours, along with the beautiful lakeside cottage vacation community.”
Grahame can easily conduct most of the interview while turning and shaving down a batch of teapots. They were prepared the day before and turned, now he carves the base of each, adds a lid that fits snugly. The spout will be next, itself an art form.
“You have to shape it just so, “ he holds up a prospective spout that is nothing more than a straight edged cone of clay, “ and cut it perfectly. No drips. That’s the mark of a good teapot.”
In the studio itself is one of Grahame’s trademark pieces, a huge teapot.
“That is probably my biggest future challenge, “ he says, “ throwing a bigger and bigger pot. This one did have a little brood of small teapots around it, but they’ve all gone. I’ll have to make some more.”
Debbie meanwhile can take you through her process of creation with clay slabs. Not only are there sculpted wall plaques, glazed reliefs of a lakeside landscape highlighted by the use of different clays to emphasise some of the features such as birch trees, but the glaze gives them a very natural glow, almost a woody look that belies the substrate material.
Triptych by Debbie Wales, Canadian Potter
Her centrepiece is an amazing set of vases. A triptych, three vases that, while each could stand as its own creation, are designed so that the curves flow together to fit against its peers snugly, making a truly impressive ensemble. Even the glaze dovetails from one to the other.
“It took me quite a while to just figure how each needed to flow. I had this idea in my head but putting it into reality and practicality took me a while with trial and error, “ says Debbie, but I think persistence paid off in the end.”
It did. The triptych is, quite simply, beautiful.
Debbie’s future ambition?
“I would love to craft a large piece of art for the wall. Something constructed of interlocking tiles to avoid too much trouble with firing and shrinkage.” The lady certainly has vision.
Canadian Pottery Studio, Earth and Fire Pottery, Jewellery Collection
The link with pottery and ceramic art has been nurtured within the family too. Daughter Jen, in between studying at university, has not only been able to run ‘Clay Camps’ for kids in the summer season, but has also developed her own lines of jewellery that incorporates ceramic inserts, along with key fobs and wall art. It is very stylish and very ‘now’. Combined with her parents products it is an altogether very impressive gathering.
“You can see how busy we are, “ says Debbie, “ which is why we are so impressed with the whole set up of www.MadeInHaliburton.ca . It gives us an online shop front, ships via professional packers and handlers, covers marketing and sales. It really is a whole different dimension to our sales. We love the website and encourage people to look and shop there. They can access it from anywhere worldwide, it means our studio is just a click away.”
Before we leave this hive of activity though, is there any key advice that Grahame or Debbie have learned, something that prospective potters can keep in mind?
“ Oh yes,” says Debbie, “ I heard something at a workshop years ago, something that really stuck with me. ‘The best pots are still in you’. I think that drives you on because it might just be that next pot …”
You can see some great examples of their work, not only at their website and its lovely gallery, http://www.earthandfirepottery.ca/index.htm , but for online art shopping the very best website for Haliburton Highlands art, http://www.madeinhaliburton.ca/